Sands of time

Human beings use sand the most after water. How sustainable is it?

Last Updated: Thursday 11 July 2019

We may not think much of the grainy material, but we use it so much: In our mobile phones, our buildings, even in the automobile industry. Sand is important in the construction sector too.

But for how long? Sand and gravel are extracted the most — even more than fossil fuel. Globally, 32-50 billion tonne sand is consumed every year, especially in India, China and Africa.

Sand plays a crucial role in the rapid urbanisation. But the usage of sand exceeds the natural pace of replacement and by the middle of this century, we will run out of sand.

Most of this sand come from rivers though they have less than one per cent of the world’s sand. Smoother desert sand can’t be used for construction.

Sand extraction affects ecology, infrastructure and the livelihood of three billion people living along rivers. Current estimates of global sand mining is unreliable as many river banks are spread over countries, making it difficult to monitor.

Also, each country has different rules for sand mining. In the developing world, where demand is the greatest, it is mainly a small, informal industry run by the sand mafia.

Sand mining from active areas like river deltas will affect the ecological flow of the river and can sink the delta islands.

There is a global agenda for sustainable extraction of sand, which advocates new passive sources, eg floodplain sediments or sand trapped behind dams.

Other solutions are alternates like fly ash and foundry sand.

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